50 years at Gombe

Posted on October 30, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , |

Sunday, October 24, Jackson and I got the privilege to hear Dr. Jane Goodall speak.  I was so excited that Jackson wanted to go with me.  She had been on campus visiting with the anthropology department (there’s a large primate lab there), however, given that I am in Biological Sciences, I couldn’t attend that session.  I would say that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, but I guess it depends on being at the right place at the right time.  I was fortunate enough to be in College Station when she came to Aggieland (WHOOP!) to give  a lecture.  She gave a phenomenal talk, so I expected the same here in Calgary.  She did not disappoint.

Jackson went and found our seats while I was in line for a book.  I got Zachary one of her children’s books.  I also picked me up a t-shirt – I have an irrational weakness for t-shirts.  I was thrilled when I got to our seats – they were really good (I’ll have to remember that section when buying tickets for a show).  The theatre was packed.  A slide show featuring a 26 year old Jane and various chimpanzees was playing on a loop while we waited.  Jackson told me that one of the slides stated that she would be signing books afterwards.  I was skeptical.  We didn’t pay the $$ for the special tickets that included a reception with Jane before the lecture.  Those that could afford it were able to get books signed by her and their picture taken with her.  As the slide show looped back around I realized that Jackson was right – as usual.  Thankfully, I had brought one of her books from home on the off chance that I could corner her until she signed it.

Blah, blah, blah – the man that introduced her talked forever.  Jackson was getting squirmy and I was getting bored.  The chatter in the theatre had started to increase, so we weren’t the only ones that were ready for this guy to get off the stage.  Finally we heard the magic words… “It is my pleasure to present Dr. Jane Goodall.”  You could have heard a pin drop.  With the hush that fell over the crowd, one would have thought royalty entered the room.  As far as ecologists are concerned – that is exactly what happened.

The 76 year old looked so small on the big stage, but she had such a huge presence.  She opened up with a chimp greeting and said “Hello”.

Since 2010 marks the 50th anniversary of Jane’s first steps into Gombe National Park, her talk focused on chimpanzees.  She discussed her life – how she overcame so much to get to Africa, how her mom went with her for the first four months, and her life with the chimps.  By knowing the right people, she landed a job with Dr. Leakey.  He was the one that decided to send her out into the park to study chimps.  A wealthy American funded her research for the first six months.  It was during this time that she discovered that chimpanzees not only used tools, but made them as well.  With this discovery, her funding was secured by by National Geographic.

Her findings changed the way people saw animals – chimpanzees in particular.  They were more like humans than we had thought.  The chimps shared the same emotions we did – happiness, anger, sadness, jealousy… the list goes on.  One of her best days was when David Greybeard entered her camp looking for food.  Once she gained his trust, he introduced her to the rest of the troop.

Jane Goodall has led an incredible life – and she hasn’t stopped yet.  She went to Africa at age 23 with the formal education from a secretarial school.  At 26, she set up camp in Gombe and changed the world.  Five years later she obtained her PhD from Cambridge – amazing since she never received an undergraduate degree.  She started the Jane Goodall Institute that is found worldwide as well as the Roots and Shoots program (which is a program designed to get today’s youth involved).  Not only is the focus for these programs conservation, but also involving the local people so they can learn how to benefit from keeping the area natural (as opposed to clear cutting forests or extensive agriculture).  One project was with the villages around Gombe.  The forest was disappearing and something had to be done.  JGI gave out micro loans to the native women.  Jane said that women are more likely to start a business and pay back the loan so they can get a larger loan and expand their business.  However, men are more likely to spend their loan money on “booze”.  She still travels 300 days/year as an ambassador for the natural world.  I found this scrapbook that gives the highlights of her fascinating life.

After her talk, there was a question session.  Jackson was in line to ask a question but the moderator cut the session off before they got to him.  When it was all over, we followed the crowd out to the lobby and got in line to meet Jane.  She would sign one book per person.  So cool! I had my book from home and I bought one there so Jackson and I could each have something signed.  They were taking pictures with her (no personal photos please) – I wonder how much we will have to pay to get a polaroid…  They actually uploaded the pictures to the JGI Canada website and we could download our pictures for free.  I was not expecting a photo opp, remember we did not pay the $$ for the reception, so I was not dressed for one.  That said – who could possibly turn down a chance to get a picture with one of the leading conservationists of all time?

The line went fairly quickly (we were still in it for an hour).  The volunteers that worked the event did a good job of herding you in and out at an unbelievable pace.  Then it was our turn.  I had mixed emotions as I stood next to her and said “Cheese”. On one hand I was so excited to be here, standing next to The Dr. Jane Goodall… on the other hand, here was a 76 year old who was obviously exhausted.  She had a full day (year would be more like it), it was 10pm and she was tired.  Jackson and I both thanked her – she responded – and we were quickly herded out so that the next group of cattle could come in.

I felt like I could do anything after hearing her story.  I was ready to conquer the world.  I hope that all the young people that attended the lecture had the same feeling… if so, then maybe there’s hope for us yet.

“We do not inherit the earth from our Ancestors.  We borrow it from our Children.”  – Native American Proverb

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